Arousal Non-concordance

Although not described in detail, this article on arousal non-concordance mentions sexual assault.

Are you sitting down? Because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you that will change your life! I’m here to tell you about something called arousal non-concordance. Arousal non-concordance is basically when your sexual arousal physically (in your genitals) doesn’t match up with your subjective arousal (how turned on you feel). You probably have never heard this term before, but I can almost guarantee you’ve experienced these differing levels of arousal before because it’s incredibly common. 

The origins of arousal non-concordance

I first learned about arousal non-concordance while reading Emily Nagoski’s book, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. Nagoski has written extensively on this topic and even gave a Ted Talk about it last year. Her Ted Talk is fantastic and I recommend watching it right after you finish reading this. 

Your genitals can respond to something that is sexually relevant without it being sexually appealing. If you witness something that is sexual, your body can process it as sexually relevant, regardless of if you enjoy it or not. Your brain is what helps you decide if you like and want that thing. Nagoski gives the example of reading a news article about a sexual assault and noticing her genitals feeling aroused at the same time she felt horrified by what she was reading. This doesn’t mean she is turned on by reading about assault; she had this physical response because her body is responding to something that is sexually relevant, but her mind knows that she obviously does not find this appealing. 

Another example she gives is that victims of sexual assault can sometimes orgasm during a rape or assault. In some court cases, unfortunately, people have interpreted this as consent. Because of the research backing up arousal non-concordance, we know that the survivor’s body processed this as something that was sexually relevant, which would be why they had an orgasm, but that does not at all mean they wanted or liked what was happening. 

How it helps us understand relationships

Arousal non-concordance can help us understand our own sexual relationships better as well. You may have experienced times when you are intimate with a partner and you are ready to have sex, but your genitals might not seem ready. Similarly, you might have experienced when your genitals seem ready, but you are not ready yet. It is important that your partner listens to your words and not your body. Even though your genitals might be hard or wet or whatever else, you decide if and when you are ready to engage with someone sexually. You should never second guess yourself or have your partner convince you you’re ready because of what your genitals are saying. Your genitals respond if something is sexually relevant, but you respond if you like or want that sexually relevant thing!

The overlap between genital and subjective arousal

Based on the research behind arousal non-concordance, there is a 50% overlap between genital arousal and subjective arousal for someone with a penis. For someone with a clitoris and vagina, there is only a 10% overlap between genital arousal and subjective arousal. That means that for someone with a penis, about 50% of the time their genitals and mind will be equally aroused, but for someone with a clitoris, this perfect overlap only occurs 10% of the time!!! That’s why it is so important to have your partner trust your words and not your genital’s response in a sexual situation. That’s also why your genitals can respond sexually to something that is not appealing to you.

Now that you know about arousal non-concordance, what can you do with this enlightening information? As Nagoski suggests in her book and Ted Talk, tell someone about it. Spread this exciting news and know that you are not sexually twisted or broken. Tell your partner to trust your words and not your genitals. Finally, if you’re someone who experiences only the 10% overlap, pay attention to your subjective arousal (how mentally turned on you are) and buy some lube to help with the rest. 

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